Monday, September 16, 2013

Brian d'Arcy James Talks LES MISERABLES, Stage Door Fans, SMASH, and More

Stage Door Dish, a great new Broadway fan site, recently interviewed one of my favorite performers, Brian d'Arcy James. It's really in depth, but for those of you like me who have a short attention span, I've picked out the highlights of the interview. He's hilarious and insightful, so there were some funny moments as well as sincere quotes about what it's like to experience the hard world of acting. Make sure to read the whole thing on which has way more content, including a lot about BDJ's 54 Below show, TV vs. Broadway, his admiration for Mark Rylance, and much more!

"Stage Door Dish: Now you’re singing Billy Joel songs in concert at 54 Below. How does that feel? Did you grow up with Billy Joel’s music?

Brian d'Arcy James: I did. Nothing has changed. I won’t be wearing the same yellow sweater that I wore in eighth grade in my gym. I had many ways that I received music, mostly through my parents, who had a really great, eclectic taste in music. By the time you get to eighth grade, you find out what you like and gravitate toward the things that resonate with you.

SDD: Have you kept in contact with anyone from the cast of Smash?

BDJ: I haven’t seen anyone recently, but we’re all friendly. I haven’t seen anyone lately but I ran into Will Chase not that long ago. That’s really it. We’re not having sleepovers or anything, but I look forward to seeing any and all of my cast mates from that show.

SDD: What has been your favorite role that you’ve worked on?

BDJ: One of them that comes to mind is a play that I did by Conor McPherson called The Good Thief, which was a one-man play about a man who has gotten in way over his head and things go awry. There’s this beautiful love story that develops. Conor McPherson is a playwright who I absolutely adore. His writing is extraordinary. The story was exquisite. The challenge of doing a monologue that’s 65 minutes with just yourself on stage is interesting. It was a technical challenge, which I love. The fact that it was received well and had many lives—we did it in New York and Los Angeles and London and Ireland—was wonderful. I think I’ll come back to it because the narrator, as he’s called, is a timeless character, and I think I’ll be able to play him when I’m 70. It’s kind of this magical little thing, a box that I hope that I get to open up again.

SDD: That being said, is there a role that you’d be interested in playing someday?

BDJ: I never used to have an answer to this until I got tired of myself not having an answer. My answer now is that I’d love to get a shot at playing George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I love that play and I’ve seen it a number of times. It’s just a kind of play that is so extraordinary and has such a pedigree and is twisted a little bit. It seems kind of ridiculous to say that I want to play that, especially in light of the long, tall shadows being cast by these amazing actors who have played it before. The first time I saw that play was in college and how a dog tilts his head when he hears a strange sound, I’ve always had that reaction watching that play. Something about that is really appealing to me.

SDD: A lot of people have said that you should play Jean Valjean someday.

BDJ: Wow.

SDD: Would you be interested in that?

BDJ: It’s hard to see myself in that role, only because I spent a year on the road playing Joly. If I was ever in Les Mis, I’d only be able to play Joly. That’s very flattering to hear. It’s such a vocally challenging role to play. I would definitely have to go back to school and learn how to sing."
Side note: BDJ sang "Bring Him Home" almost exactly a year ago for The Passionists' 160th anniversary celebration. Check it out below!

"SDD: What’s been your most memorable fan experience at the stage door?

BDJ: I was very, very touched by the people who would stick around after Shrek because it took me a good hour to get out of there. In the winter, when it gets cold outside, I would walk out there expecting everyone to be gone. There would be some people who were out there waiting and wanted to say, ‘We love the show. Great job.’ That always was really touching for me. That was a great source of energy for me because that was a lot of work and a lot of energy. It was always very uplifting and rewarding to see another young person or an adult who loves theatre saying, ‘Great job.’ They were committed, just sticking around. That always made me smile.

SDD: Who do you think you’ve learned the most from, out of all of the shows that you’ve been in and all of the performers that you’ve worked with?

BDJ and John Lithgow in Sweet
Smell of Success
BDJ: John Lithgow. He’s an extraordinary actor, as everyone knows, and he’s a beautiful person. I met him right when I was becoming a father. He’s a father who is also an actor. He has a family and he loves acting. It’s fun to watch him do his thing up close when I had the chance but also I get to appreciate him. I know him and I feel lucky to have that insight into who he is as a person and seeing who he is. He’s a genuinely good guy and I got to see how that infuses into his work as a good actor and how that becomes such an interesting and necessary component to how he works. I guess I learned a lot from him, in terms of how to be a leader if you’re in a show where you’ve got a lot to do and people are looking to you to carry the ball. I think there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that. He wears that all very well. The list goes on and on, but I think I learned quite a bit from John.

SDD: It sounds like you trust your instincts a lot when you’re picking jobs, going onto the next career move. Do you think that’s correct?

BDJ: Yes and no. That’s a really good question because I think that experience breeds knowledge. The more time you spend doing something, you can allow yourself to follow your instincts. You can tally up how many times they’ve led you in the right place and they usually do. But on the other hand, the flip-side of that coin of having a good chunk of time in this business…I go back to something that John Lithgow said, which is apropos, he said, ‘Whatever decision that you make in this business, just know that it will be the wrong thing.’ It was his funny way of saying that you just never know. You never decide to do something because it’s going to get you something or it’s going to get you some place. You just have to do it because you want to do it. I’ve tried to kind of give up being strategic about decisions I make. It’s kind of a mix of following your instincts but also not being too concerned about getting it right.

SDD: Do you have any current obsessions?

BDJ: I don’t think I do. I guess I’m boring. The closest thing might be this bakery here on the Upper West Side called Levain Bakery where they make these cookies. Maybe that’s it, maybe that’s my obsession. Luckily, I don’t act on it. L-e-v-a-i-n. I always spell it out so that maybe they’ll send me a box of cookies. They’re amazing cookies.

SDD: Do you have any secret talents that nobody knows about?

BDJ: Let’s see. No, I don’t. I guess being an actor, you say, ‘Here’s my talent, for better or for worse.’ No, I don’t think I do. I do a terrible impression of Donald Duck. That’s really it. I have a banjo that I don’t know how to play. Those are my two answers."

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Friday, September 13, 2013

News and History: MISS SAIGON Revisited (Part 2)

Tickets just went on sale and box office records were broken for the 2014 revival of Miss Saigon on the West End, so as a continuation from earlier this week, let's take a look back at the road to the original production from over 20 years ago. Missed part 1? Check it out on Singular Sensation!

Here is the third video of the making of Miss Saigon. This one starts off with the first rehearsal. It's a classic first rehearsal, because it's a room full of theatre people, most of whom know each other, and the newbies (Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson, to name a couple) are totally lost and overwhelmed. This might be my favorite video out of this whole series, because throughout the rest of it, you see them start blocking, then towards the end, they step foot on stage for the first time. This is also the first video where you actually see Jonathan Pryce, who, after facing serious obstacles to reprise his role on Broadway after the West End production, won a Tony for his portrayal of the Engineer.

In the next clip, watch as the cast finally sings with a full orchestra. Then they go into what was probably a very long and grueling first tech/dress rehearsal to practice with the set moving and dealing with quick costume changes. Director Nicholas Hytner tells the cast before the start tech that it will last many days, and I believe it. To get a taste for it, this video shows them running the first few seconds of the show over and over again. Then they work the Engineer's iconic song, "American Dream" without costumes. Finally, they go into previews.

The final video brings us to opening night as all the creative team and other British stars come out to see the new Boublil and Schonberg musical. It includes footage of most of "The American Dream" in full costume with a look backstage during it to see the ensemble members running to change costume and get in place like crazy people. At the end, Cameron Mackintosh and most of the creative team gathers to read the reviews the day after, and the video closes with the bows from opening night which are followed by extreme rejoicing as soon as the curtain goes down.

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Read More:
"Miss Saigon Revisited (Part 1)"
"Miss Saigon Barely Made it to Broadway... Film to Follow?"
"Watch Miss Saigon's Eva Noblezada and More in This Preview!"

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Journey of MISS SAIGON From The Concept to the Auditions

I recently found a gem. While Miss Saigon was being made, that is, from the time producer Cameron Mackintosh came in to work with composers Boublil & Schonberg (of Les Miserables) on the finishing touches to the score to opening night at the Theatre Royal in London in 1989, a film crew was capturing much of the process. The culmination of said filming was a documentary called The Heat is On. It is one of the most fascinating show documentaries I have seen, because it spreads the attention pretty evenly throughout the different aspects of the process.

Today, I bring you the first two parts. In the first video, you will see Cameron Mackintosh and the composers at the piano working out some of the songs and talking about what kind of girl they need to play 17-year-old Kim. They describe her as, "18 with immense charm and lungs of steel." So a few girls audition in different cities, but they clearly lack some aspect whether it be the voice or the innocence needed for this role.

The second video features more auditions including Monique Wilson (original Mimi as well as Kim alternate) and Lea Salonga (original Kim) who were theatre friends before auditioning for Miss Saigon together. At the beginning of Salonga's audition, she asks Claude-Michel Schonberg to sign her Les Mis memorabilia, which is adorable since I'm sure she had no idea then that she would later be considered one of the best Eponines of all time. Besides singing Kim songs, there is also a rare clip of her singing "The Movie in My Mind" which she never sings because it's sung in the show by Gigi. You also get to see Monique Wilson sing the Kim solo, "I'd Give My Life for You." In addition, there are great clips of the poster and set models emerging.

Watch for the next few parts later this week on Singular Sensation!

Read More:
Lea Salonga on Broadway
Jonathan Pryce on Broadway

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